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Our examination of the peer-reviewed medical, public health, biological, earth sciences, and engineering literature uncovered no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health. – Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking


Sore throats, headaches, shortness of breath, nosebleeds, difficulty sleeping, and dizziness--- these are all ailments that at some point in time, all of us have experienced. Generally, the culprit seems obvious; perhaps seasonal allergies, a shift in weather, or a spike in stress levels are to blame. Yet a surplus of recent medical research reveals that for some of us, these symptoms correlate to exposure to environmental contaminants known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Invisible to the eye, VOCs encompass a wide range of chemicals known to cause both short and long-term health effects. VOC exposure comes from a variety of sources, including air fresheners, cosmetics, paints, furniture, and adhesives. Fracking sites, however, are one of the most concerning sources, as they daily release large quantities of VOCs, many of which are known carcinogens, into our air supply without anyone knowing it. Compressor stations, well-pads, and processing facilities at fracking sites all release toxic chemicals that once inhaled can cause a variety of health complications in all age demographics, including the unborn fetus.


Since oil and gas development is booming in the US, emitting more and more pollution every year, there is a clear need for increased discussion pertaining to fracking’s impact on public health. It is estimated that 18 million US citizens, 1.4 million of whom are young children, reside within a miles distance of working oil and gas wells (PSR, 2019, p. 20). In Colorado alone, there are 51,953 active well locations (COGCC, 2020, p. 3). Even more concerning is that those who live near fracking sites are not the only ones at risk: a report by Physicians for Social Responsibility shares that “air emissions from fracking can drift and pollute the air hundreds of miles downwind” (2019, p. 20). Proximity to active sites and the movement of VOC emissions through air and water, put a large portion of the US population at risk for developing cancer, respiratory diseases, weakened immunity, skin disorders, and other health complications.


Furthermore, since fracking emissions are invisible and the symptoms of poisoning mimic other disease processes, those impacted may be misdiagnosed or completely oblivious to the root of their symptoms. As medical school curriculum typically lacks training in identifying symptoms from VOC poisoning, many of the mental and physical adversities they cause can go undetected. Patients continue to live near hazardous sites, and needlessly suffer.


Fortunately, in recent years there has been a noble push on behalf of physicians, scientists, and public health leaders to recognize, educate, and mitigate the adverse impacts of VOCs. Notably, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) has used “medical and public health expertise to educate and advocate on urgent issues that threaten human health and survival, with the goals of reversing the trajectory towards climate change, protecting the public and the environment from toxic chemicals, and addressing the health consequences of fossil fuels” for the past five decades (PSR, 2019, p. 2). On December 5th, an exciting opportunity awaits for all to participate in this important conversation regarding public health and environmental contaminants via PSR Colorado’s second online Medical Symposium: “Health Effects of Oil and Gas Development.”


This all day event, featuring 12 experts in the field, will cover topics ranging from oil and gas development’s impact on human physiology and disease processes, mental health, wildlife and livestock, climate change, social justice, and also the legal loopholes that allow it to continue. Concerns pertaining to oil and gas development will be viewed through both a cellular and global lens, allowing for a dynamic perspective on the many threats behind the industry. For example, this year’s keynote speaker Detlev Helmig PhD will discuss the ways that VOCs travel throughout the atmosphere from areas of dense fracking activity.


According to PSR Colorado advocate and organizer Fran Levine, the purpose of this year’s symposium is to spread awareness through interdisciplinary fields and the general public, “so we can protect the environment, wildlife, and people.” There is a clear need for implementation of environmental risk assessment and research within the medical field, but Levine claims that we need to expand that education to all fields. Her goal is to insert the discussion into the work of psychologists, veterinarians, social workers, educators, agriculturalists and many others.


Levine also urges that even if you are lucky enough to not live close to a fracking site, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be educated and diligent about the topic. As pollutants move through air and water, we are reminded of a principal concept within ecology: everything is connected. We are all living under the same sky and breathe the same air. As a global people, we have a reasonability to understand the impacts that modernization has on the planet and the future of our children. Furthermore, oil and gas development is still booming; you never know when it will literally pop up in YOUR backyard.


Please consider participating in this amazing, and well-researched symposium December 5th. For Medical and Health professionals, CME, Contact Hours, and CE credits are available. Attendance is free for the general public.

To explore risk of exposure to fracking sites based on your own geographical location, visit https://www.fractracker.org/map/us/colorado/.


Many thanks to Fran Levine for offering essential information used in this article, and for her devotion, along with all other PSR advocates, to help protect the health and integrity of our nation.


Additional References:

Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) (2020), Readiness Whitepaper. Department of Natural Resources. (3-9).

Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) (2019). Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction),Concerned Health Professionals of New York, (6), 1-20.



Updated: Oct 19


There are few places left in the world where entire ecosystems are wild, wildlife corridors intact, soil unturned, water unpolluted, and views uninterrupted by human development. Comprising roughly 640 million acres of US soil and ranging from national parks and wildlife refuges to national forests, BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and designated wetlands, these remaining wild places exist primarily on our public lands. Public lands serve as some of humanity’s only anchors to the natural world, host essential nonhuman life, and preserve indigenous history and culture. Public Trust is a MUST SEE film, as it educates viewers on the increasing vulnerability of public lands. Watch here: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=public+trust+film&docid=608020880890988191&mid=90F3962123B23CD8698590F3962123B23CD86985&view=detail&FORM=VIRE


Below are some significant points brought up in the film:

1) Corporations want to profit off of public land resources: For some of us, the main profit from nature is spiritual, recreational, or sustenance gathering (wood, hunting, fishing). For others, nature is viewed as a commodity. In the case of cattle grazing, it can be viewed as healthy food, when managed sustainably. But there are those who have the means to lease a desired portion of public land aggressively to exploit lush forests, roaring rivers, mineral-rich mountainsides and underground oil/gas deposits. Specifically, according to The Wilderness Society, the BLM makes lands available, through a nomination and leasing process, to the oil and gas industry, and has the potential to open up roughly 90% of our public lands. Additionally, developers have deserted 161,000 mining sites—all left for taxpayers and locals to clean up. Perhaps more frightening is the persistent push by industrial entities to privatize and purchase public lands, providing the opportunity for “no limits” to development. As humans, we must ask, who benefits when the last wild places on this beautiful planet have been pillaged and destroyed at the hands of corporate interest? Who profits when nature has been systematically compromised? From threats of oil and gas development on our Baca Wildlife Refuge to frequent water export proposals and the looming Wolf Creek Pass development efforts, SLVEC knows that the best way to profit from our public lands is to protect them.

2) Many public lands host an abundance of cultural, historical, and sacred indigenous American artifacts: Public Trust serves as a wonderful reminder to viewers that before any lands were declared public or private, they were Native lands. They still are Native lands, even if not recognized by the government or private interest. Indigenous drawings, burials/remains, artifacts, ancestral territories, sacred sites, etc. can be found within many of the lands that are open to the public today. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, for example, shares that “ Bears Ears is home to more than 100,000 Native American archeological and cultural sites considered sacred by many tribes.” Though protected as a national monument under the Obama administration, Bears Ears National Monument was drastically reduced during the Trump administration, opening the door to oil and gas development. Greater Chaco, Standing Rock, Oak Flat, Bears Ears, Mauna Kea, the list of sacred landscapes subjected to exploitation goes on and on. Disturbing historical and meaningful environments risks erasing yet more indigenous North American history and connection to ancestry and culture.

3) We ALL benefit from keeping wild places wild: If there is one thing that all Americans should agree on, it’s the essentialness of clean water, fresh air, and healthy soil! Protecting our public lands ensures a healthier future for the generations to come. Therefore, protecting public lands should NOT be politicized. Religion, politics, and values aside, we as concerned citizens can come together to advocate for a cleaner environment by continuing to fight against the commodification/privatization of public lands. When people unite on an issue, it is hard to ignore. This is the power of advocacy! Let’s keep this point in mind as we continue our work to protect SLV water from Renewable Water Resources!

4) Public land protections can be reversed just as quickly as they are instated: Public Trust reports on two disappointing reversals of public land protections in the US: Bears Ears National Monument and Alaska’s Arctic Refuge. The Trump administration reduced Bears Ears National Monument’s area by over 80%, leaving sensitive cultural sites and wildlife in danger. As well, nearly 1.6 million acres of the Alaska Arctic Refuge was recently opened for oil and gas leasing, risking the livelihood of sensitive foxes, polar bears, migratory birds, porcupine caribou and other species. While SLVEC has had great success in the past at limiting development in local natural areas, we are aware that conservation is an ongoing struggle. As citizens of any environment, we must stay aware, alert, and engaged in local discussions regarding public land use and development.

5) These lands are worth fighting for:

So many valuable resources come from public lands; from the oxygen we breathe to the water we drink and the landscapes we fall in love with, public lands offer more than any dollar amount! Public lands are for all of us to enjoy, and therefore, we should all be involved in protecting them! Below are several resources for how to become involved:

*To take action with the makers of Public Trust, Text “DEFEND” to 71333.

*To Donate to and support the Gwich'in Nation in protecting the critical Arctic Refuge of which their people depend, visit: http://ourarcticrefuge.org/take-action/

*To Support indigenous environmental work: https://www.ienearth.org/contact-us/ and http://www.honorearth.org

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San Luis Valley

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